Marshal Matt Dooley goes to Boot Hill in Elwood, KS, He admires the town and the peace that he's brought it. The only thing marring it is a roving gambler named Bret Maverick.
In Wormwood, Bret is eating at the saloon with Kenneth P. Badger, who is talking about his work as an encyclopedia salesman. Fellow diner Freddie Hawkins isn't interested in seeing Kenneth's encyclopedias. Farmer Ames comes in and asks if someone can read a letter for him, and explains that he found a corpse in his field with the letter in the jacket. The letter is written by Andrew McIlhenny, and mentions "the stuff" being transferred and how he is going to transfer the rest out of Jethro. The letter is to George B. Crispin, Vicksburg, MS. Bret offers to give the letter to the sheriff and Ames accepts his offer and leaves.
Bret excuses himself to find the sheriff and then catch his train. Kenneth notes that there are no trains out of Wormwood that night, and remembers that McIhenny was Mississippi legislator and captain in the Confederate army. He led an underground army in Kansas during the Civil War and narrowly avoided capture in Elwood. McIlhenny escaped to Europe with $500,000 in Confederate gold. Kenneth looks up to discover that Freddie has left.
Bret takes a stage to Elwood and goes to the Weeping Willow Saloon, which Mort owns. Amy Ward runs the saloon, and Deputy Clyde Diefendorfer notices Bret playing cards at a table. He goes to the jail where Mort is playing checkers with Doc Stucke, and tells Mort that a professional gambler is at the saloon. Meanwhile, Bret talks to a poker player who says that most of Elwood was built on the old Jethro farm. All of the Jethros were wiped out in a John Brown raid. Mort comes in and tells Bret to leave on the next stage because he's disturbing the peace and goading Mort into a gunfight.
Mort puts Bret on the stage and tells him to stay out of Elwood. Freddie is among the passengers getting off, and Bret tells Mort that Freddie is a professional card player who cheats. Mort figures Freddie is a respectable businessman, and Bret gets on the stage.
Later at the saloon, Freddie tells the barflies about his supposed time in the Civil War. Bret is outside and listens as Freddie says that a Jethro drummer boy asked him to come to Elwood and tell his family how he died. Clyde says that all of the Jethros died, and Bret goes to Freddie's hotel room and waits for him. When Freddie comes in, he finds Bret waiting for him. Bret knows Freddie as a conman in San Francisco, and Freddie cheerfully admits that he's after the $500,000 and hopes to get it out of Jethro.
Emily Cameron knocks at the door, and asks if she can come in. Once Freddie lets her in, Emily says that she's a reporter with the local paper and knows they're asking about Jethro and McIlhenny. Freddie tells her that she's Sebastian Jethro, the last Jethro posing as Hawkins. He's searching to make sure he is in truth the last Jethro, and claims Bret is his legal counsel. Freddie says that if the story got out before he was ready to go to the courts, the sharks would come after him. Emily agrees to keep the story a secret and leaves. The two men figure Emily isn't a reporter, and Bret warns Freddie that if he double-crosses him, he'll publish McIlhenny's letter and have everyone looking for the gold.
Bret follows Emily but Mort spots him and calls out to the gambler. The next morning he escorts Bret to the stagecoach and runs him out of town. This time Kenneth gets off the stage, and Mort doesn't want to hear Bret's explanation.
Later, Mort talks to Doc on the street. Clyde tells Mort that there's Indians at Haglund Farm. Mort decides to go there even though Haglund Farm is 18 miles outside of town and Indians are always around. Bret watches Mort go.
That night, Emily breaks into Freddie's room and finds his British passport but nothing else. She checks the closet and finds Bret there, and he admits he couldn't find anything, either. Emily accepts that Bret knows what she's up to and goes with him, then trips him going down the stairs and runs off.
As Bret asks around trying to find Emily, he sees Freddie and Kenneth together. They talk to Clyde, claiming that they've heard of his reputation as a Kansas historian, and he tells them all about McIlhenny and his Copperheads. The deputy says that the whole south end of Elwood used to be the Jethro farm.
Mort meets with two local Indians who say they haven't seen any hostiles, and offer him some blankets.
Clyde gives Freddie and Kenneth specific directions to where the Jethro farm used to be, and Freddie is satisfied when Clyde describes the smokehouse. The two men go there and dig up the street, and Bret hides as they go back after they finish for the night without finding anything.
The next morning, Mort returns to Elwood and sees the townspeople standing over holes in the middle of the street. They say that they found it that way, and Mort blames it on the kids and has Clyde supervise filling the holes up.
Bret continues trying to find Emily, and a dressmaker directs him to Virginia Adams, whose mother is a schoolteacher. Bret leaves and Mort punches him. The marshal draws a gun on Bret but says that he's kind of pitiful so he's going to give him one more chance to get out of Elwood. He takes Bret to the train, and Kenneth and Freddie watch them go. Later, an operator gives Mort a telegram, reads it, and says that he's going to Kansas City to pick up Hognose Hughes.
Bret goes to the Adams house, and finds Kenneth and Freddie with Mrs. Adams and "Emily": her daughter Virginia. Freddie demands to know what Virginia is up to, and they figure she's looking for the $500,000. Bret realizes that Mrs. Adams speaks with a Bayou accent and Victoria doesn't, and figure she came to Elwood as a child. He figures that Mrs. Adams is McIlhenny's wife, and McIlhenny's wife and child would be the only ones interested in him other than them. Mrs. Adams admits the truth, and says that they came there looking for proof that McIlhenny didn't betray his trust. She tells them that she's tired and they should go, and the three men quickly leave.
Outside, Bret tells Freddie to give the Adams the letter because they need it and the men don't. Freddie says that he burnt the letter after he stole it from Bret. Bret, Kenneth, and Freddie go to the bar to drink and consider the letter's contents. They individually figure out the $500,000 is buried 15 foot due south of something that McIlhenny "pumped" the money out of. A barfly comes in and asks for a drink, saying that Mort would give him one. Bret buys him a drink to shut him up, and then another. The man mentions "Jethro's pump", and figures there must be a real one there. Bret goes to the jail to ask Clyde what he knows about Jethro's pump, and points out that Mort just said he didn't want to see Bret again.
Mort gets on the train to Kansas City.
Clyde tells Bret that Jethro's Pump went dry but was still standing when Clyde came to Elwood. It stood at the north end of the hitching post in front of the temperance hall. As Bret leaves, Mort spots him and yells at him. Mort steps out in the street and tells Bret to draw, and misses six times. Bret points out that they're out of range of each other, and Mort drops his gun in shot.
Later, Amy, Doc, and Clyde try to assure Mort that he's still as good as always. Mort isn't consoled, and that night Bret digs at the hitching post. As he finds something buried, Freddie and Kenneth show up and say they knew Bret could do it. They have a wagon ready to haul away the $500,000, and Bret finishes digging up the trunk he's found. Inside are Confederate gold certificates... which are useless since the South lost.
The men haul the trunk away and figure that nobody knew or lived to say that the treasure was Confederate money. Kenneth insists that he fell among thieves and storms off. Freddie tells Bret to keep the money, and he takes it to the Adams. They assure him it's all they needed to prove McIlhenny didn't betray his trust, and Freddie arrives and gives the Adams the letter he claims that he burned.
The next day, Clyde visits the depressed Mort and tells him that he's got to eat. Mort goes out with his deputy and sees Bret coming out of his hotel. Bret sees Mort and begs him not to shoot him, promising to get out of Elwood. The gambler rides off and everyone congratulates Mort.
Outside of Elwood, Bret meets Freddie, who complains that Bret is too sentimental for helping restore Mort's confidence. The two of them ride off together.
Written by Gadfly on Nov 3, 2019